Chess Olympiad: U.S. Joins Poland, Azerbaijan In Lead
With Poland and Azerbaijan playing 2-2, the U.S. could catch up today. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Chess Olympiad: U.S. Joins Poland, Azerbaijan In Lead

It took the women six rounds to erase all of the unblemished team scores, and now in the open section of the 2018 Chess Olympiad, round seven removed the last vestiges of perfection. That happened when on top board Poland and Azerbaijan played to an all-draws stalemate, while the only team one point back, the U.S., took care of Croatia 3-1.

Poland, Azerbaijan, and the U.S. all now have 13 points (6.5/7 match victories). Tomorrow, team USA will play Azerbaijan and Armenia (12 match points) will play Poland.

The top-seeded U.S. benefited from another lesser pairing, again from the Balkans. Whereas yesterday it matched with Bosnia & Herzegovina (56th seed), today it faced 18th-seeded Croatia, the second-lowest out of 10 total teams on 10 match points. Juxtapose that with just one board lower, where Ukraine played China in a heavyweight battle!

The Americans used a strategy they'd used earlier in the event. Just like in round three, they had Black and drew on the two odd boards, while winning with both Whites on the even boards.

Today those winners included Wesley So and Sam Shankland. While Fabiano Caruana and Hikaru Nakamura both held as Black, actually all five team members had duties at the playing hall today. 

Ray Robson was required to attend and submit to drug testing. Robson's first sample wasn't testable, so he said he had to eat, drink, and wait for a second sample. This entire process took almost three hours, which was even longer than some of the games today (see Navara-Gelfand below!).

So continues to be on fire. He's en route to potentially another individual medal with a personal 6.0/7 as he added his fifth win today to join with two draws.

Wesley So book OlympiadWesley So makes his wins look easy, but he was only reading this book before the game. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Stepping back to board one, after three draws on the lower boards, all eyes were on the heavyweight bout between Jan-Krzysztof Duda and Shakhriyar Mamedyarov. Well, you could argue all eyes were on them from the start, too. That's what happens when you are a top board in the top match with an up-and-coming leader of a Cinderella team (Duda) against one of the most creative super-GMs in the game (Shak).

Jan-Krzysztof Duda, Olympiad

Duda, perhaps a bit confused during his calculations. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The draw meant neither team was perfect any longer, but it also proved to be yet another stepping stone for Poland. After beating the likes of Russia and France, Poland is still plenty in contention to fight for the medals. Sure, it has won six in their history in the open section, but none since 1939!

"It's a good result, taking into account we're the 11th seed," said Polish captain Bartosz Socko. "I shouldn't call it a surprising result since I'm the team captain. I should believe in them. But it is what I was hoping for."

Poland team Batumi

Poland, still going strong. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Ukraine and China turned out to go the way of the top board. Despite showing normal match strategy by drawing with its two Black boards first, China could not make headway. Four draws meant it was a placid day for onlookers watching from the center aisle (top boards that are odd-numbered boards are easiest to view due to layout of the room).

Ukraine-China Batumi Olympiad

Ditto for Netherlands and Germany. After three draws, the fate of those countries came down to their fourth boards. It seemed for a bit that Germany's Daniel Fridman might have to defend rook+bishop vs. rook against Jorden van Foreest, but it never quite came to that. The rook trade ended any such drama (but perhaps the Fridman family has nothing to fear in pawnless endings, since earlier in the tournament Daniel's wife Anna Zatonskih had actually won rook+knight vs. rook!).

Van Foreest-Fridman

Van Foreest vs Fridman, shortly before drawing. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Three of the top four matches ended in all draws. You want some action? Enter Israel and Czech Republic! Sure, still a 2-2 tie, but with wins for White on all four boards, this was where the action was.

The fifth match produced the first decisive result of the premier boards. David Navara's clock still read one hour, 14 minutes when he beat none other than Boris Gelfand. Navara had actually earned a full point well before Robson had finished his drug testing!

Gelfand has been playing the Accelerated Dragon recently, so with Navara just using about 30 minutes thinking time in total (if you include increment), it is clear that the Czech number-one was well prepared. Actually the opening didn't win him the game, but an elementary checkmate pattern did!

Navara-Gelfand

Navara vs Gelfand. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

The "will to win" award goes to Maxime Vachier-Lagrave for his effort over Peter Leko as France won 3-1 over Hungary.

Well, maybe just call his a-pawn the hero. After becoming a b-pawn, it sat one square from promotion for 17 moves before finally cashing itself in for a winning tactic.

The idea was not perfectly winning by any means, but as Leko told Chess.com, he checked his team and saw that they were losing, but by that point he's already spoiled both the win and the draw! He also said that the encroachment of the TV cameras at one point made him deduce that there was a win for him, but of course finding it was a whole other matter.

MVL vs Leko

One of the more exciting games of the round: Leko vs MVL. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Batumi Olympiad | Round 7 Standings (Top 20)
Rk. SNo Flag Team TB1 TB2 TB3 TB4
1 4 Azerbaijan 13 189,0 21,0 66
2 11 Poland 13 175,5 20,5 61
3 1 USA 13 160,5 20,5 59
4 8 Armenia 12 157,5 19,5 61
5 5 India 11 155,5 20,0 59
6 24 Spain 11 153,5 20,5 57
7 10 Israel 11 152,5 20,0 60
8 7 France 11 150,5 20,0 60
9 3 China 11 149,0 18,5 59
10 6 Ukraine 11 142,0 17,0 61
11 16 Germany 11 139,5 18,5 58
12 15 Czech Republic 11 137,0 18,0 59
13 13 Netherlands 11 135,0 21,0 53
14 9 England 11 131,0 17,0 58
15 23 Iran 10 143,0 20,0 56
16 2 Russia 10 140,5 18,0 59
17 32 Sweden 10 139,0 19,0 55
18 38 Norway 10 138,0 20,5 52
19 27 Vietnam 10 132,0 19,5 52
20 22 Turkey 10 127,5 19,5 53
(Full standings here.)

Top pairings: USA-Azerbaijan, Armenia-Poland, Czech Republic-India, Spain-Germany, Israel-England, France-Ukraine, China-Netherlands.

The women started their round with a trio at the top: USA, Georgia one and Armenia—all on 11 match points. Nine countries were trailing by a point.

In the matchup between two of the leaders, team USA suffered its first loss of the event. That means Armenia is now the sole leader, a country that, quite surprisingly, has never won a medal, not even bronze, at the Women's Olympiads.

Armenia women Batumi Olympiad

Boards 1-3 of Armenia, right-left: Elina Danielian, Lilit Mkrtchian, Anna Sargsyan. GM Gabriel Sargissian checking the games. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

USA's board-one IM Anna Zatonskih went into the Olympiad with the intention to play solidly. Today she was solid again, but just not enough.

The experienced GM Elina Danielian, who is playing her 13th Olympiad (she debuted in the same year as Vladimir Kramnik: 1992) maneuvered strongly against Black's isolated queen's pawn and just dominated throughout the game.

In time trouble, Zatonskih's active defense probably accelerated her loss.

Elina Danielian Batumi Olympiad

Elina Danielian vs Anna Zatonskih. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

On board two, Irina Krush's position was promising out of the opening but, as she told Chess.com, she "wasn't looking for a slow plan" and then lost the thread. IM Lilit Mkrtchian took over and got very close to winning, but then her team captain told her to go for a draw. While she lost her 100 percent score, Krush was probably lucky to stay undefeated.

Anna Zatonskih Irina Krush

Anna Zatonskih (with her husband Daniel Fridman, who plays for Germany in the Open) looking upon Irina Krush's board. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Team USA's board three has been seriously struggling so far. It has been occupied by either WGM Tatev Abrahamyan or WGM Sabina Foisor, and the two have scored only 1.5 there in seven rounds. Today's loss by Foisor sealed the Americans' fate, but the good news was that FM Jennifer Yu won again to make 6.5/7. Carlsen or Komodo couldn't have played it better after move 40.

The third leader, Georgia, tied their match with India 2-2. Both team captains (GM Elizabar Ubilava for Georgia, GM Jacob Aagaard for India) couldn't complain too much, but it looks like GM Harika Dronavalli had the biggest advantage in this match of four draws:

India Georgia Batumi OlympiadIndia-Georgia, with Javakhishvili vs Harika on board two. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

After round seven, four teams are tied for second place behind ArmeniaChina, Ukraine, Georgia one and Romania.

China was too strong today for the Netherlands (3-1), who are again playing with the Chinese-born GM Zhaoqin Peng on board one. She was outplayed by the 23-years-younger GM and world number-two Ju Wenjun:

Zhaoqin Peng Batumi Olympiad

The orange lion, always the mascot for the Dutch, didn't bring much luck today. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

Ukraine, who won bronze in Baku two years ago, is fully back in the race thanks to a narrow 2.5-1.5 win vs Iran. It was the former women's world champion GM Mariya Muzychuk who scored the full point in the only decisive game. It was a fine, technical effort:

Mariya Anna Muzychuk

Mariya Muzychuk standing, while her sister Anna plays board one. | Photo: Maria Emelianova/Chess.com.

After yesterday's loss to Armenia, Russia bounced back with a 3-1 win vs Greece. It's gonna take some effort to get back and play for the medals as the Russian ladies are still three points behind the leaders. GM Valentina Gunina was the one suffering today, as she blundered material in the opening.

It was a case of "LPDO," which stands for Loose Pieces Drop Off—a term coined by the famous author GM John Nunn, who is team captain of England in the open section this year.

Batumi Olympiad (Women) | Round 7 Standings (Top 20)

Rk. SNo Flag Team TB1 TB2 TB3 TB4
1 12 Armenia 13 158,0 20,0 59
2 3 China 12 176,5 20,0 64
3 2 Ukraine 12 165,0 20,0 63
4 4 Georgia 1 12 153,0 19,0 62
5 20 Romania 12 130,0 19,5 52
6 10 USA 11 158,5 19,0 62
7 5 India 11 157,5 20,5 59
8 11 Azerbaijan 11 149,0 20,0 55
9 18 Italy 11 149,0 19,0 60
10 13 Hungary 11 148,0 19,5 54
11 14 Georgia 2 11 146,5 20,0 57
12 8 Kazakhstan 11 141,5 20,0 54
13 1 Russia 10 143,0 19,5 56
14 28 Iran 10 137,5 18,5 58
15 7 Poland 10 136,5 19,5 51
16 17 Mongolia 10 134,5 18,5 56
17 19 Vietnam 10 134,0 21,0 52
18 31 Uzbekistan 10 133,0 18,0 60
19 26 Czech Republic 10 128,0 19,5 52
20 34 Lithuania 10 124,5 18,0 53

(Full standings here.)

Top pairings: Ukraine-Armenia, China-Romania, USA-Italy, Hungary-India, Georgia two-Azerbaijan, Georgia-Kazakhstan, Netherlands-Russia.

Games via TWIC.

Peter Doggers contributed to this report.

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Earlier reports:

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